During the last week of August, 1979, I climbed Mt. Kinabalu (13, 435ft) in Sabah, East Malaysia.
Today, climbing the mountain involves traveling to the national park headquarters in a private limo or tourist coach along a modern three-lane highway. In 1979, getting to the national park involved standing on the road side at a certain junction in Kota Kinabalu and waiting for a trader to go past in a long-wheelbase Land Rover. The drivers were accustomed to tourists hitching rides up to the park headquarters. However, it wasn’t free and I had to cough up US$8.00 for the pleasure of sitting in the back, surrounded by bags, boxes and livestock. I teamed up with four other climbers, two Austrian ski instructors, a German and an Australian, who turned out to be a vegetarian. The ‘highway’ in those days was a dirt track.
We spent the night at the park where we paid for the climbing permit and shared the cost of the mandatory guide and porter. The following morning we hired another land rover to drive us the short distance to the start of the climb.
I keep referring to the ascent as ‘the climb.’ It was in fact, a long hard slog up a series of steps cut into the hillside and reinforced with wood, that followed one ridge after another to our destination for that day, the first of a series of huts at 10,000 feet. It took all day and at the time it was the hardest thing I had every done in my life.
That night over the wood stove the Australian introduced us to a meal I have never forgotten, and eaten many times since. Baked beans and tomato slices fried in tinned butter. We christened it Beans ala Kinabalu.
The following morning at 3 a.m. we set out for the summit, which we reached four hours later at 7 a.m.
Sadly, all but one of the photos I took on the summit have been lost to the sands of time. This is me on the summit. I still had hair and all of my teeth.
Sitting there on the summit we watched the clouds rolling in from below like a surf coming in from the sea. It was amazing to watch. It was important that we got back to the hut before the clouds obliterated the path altogether. Generally speaking, it was a well marked path but there were areas where there were gaps and it wasn’t unheard of for climbers to occasionally go missing.
Going down was far easier that going up, initially. But after a few miles Sahib’s Knee kicked in and made every downward step torture. Sahib’s Knee is a repetitive stress disorder (RSI). It is caused by the continuous pounding of the knee cartilage as you descend steep paths or steps. It can be prevented with a bit of training and I would advise anyone attempting this, or similar climbs to look into it.
After a few hours though, we reached the road that lead us back to the national park headquarters and a warm shower and hot meal. I was exhausted, but proud of my accomplishment. We spent that night at the national park before heading back to Kota Kinabalu the following day in another trading Land Rover that dropped us off right across the road from where they first one had pick us up a few days before.
(Today there are numerous packages available from outfits that will arrange hotels in Kota Kinabalu, transportation to and from the national park and a guided tour up to the mountain huts and summit).